Why did I become Crazy Polish Guy? I’ll try to answer that.
I visited Poland again in 1999 and 2001; I was eight and 10 years old. Taking the trip to Poland was becoming so common that I failed to fully appreciate its significance at that time.
Instead of buying actual souvenirs during those years to remember my travels, I would blow my money on toys I could have bought in the U.S., because, with the exchange rate, they were cheaper. Puzzles, Legos, Pokemon…I hauled so much junk over the Atlantic that I’m surprised LOT airlines didn’t think I was smuggling merchandise in for resale. I probably could have turned a nice profit selling that stuff for much more in the U.S.
The other highlight of these trips was cats. Yes, cats. Specifically kittens. The other boys sometimes made fun of me in grade school because I really liked cats. The reason being was that in Poland, my grandma had a cat that would have a kitten each summer I would visit. From a young age I fell in love with the animals, spending hours playing with them. Even though I was allergic and they used my arms and hands as a scratching post, I adored them.
One kitten took a particular liking to me—I believe during my 1999 trip, perhaps even 1997. Each time I returned with my family from a day on the town, as we pulled up to the house, he was visible at the window, scratching and pawing. When I opened the door, he would crawl down and start meowing at me. I would immediately pick him up and cuddle him close to me. I must admit that those were heart-touching moments of my childhood that I will never forget. Sometimes I wonder where those kittens are now. My grandma would always give or sell them to somebody after I left. If they are still around, they must be pretty old cats by now.
It was during these years that I had my earliest clear memories of places I visited in Poland, especially Krakow. I was still too young to appreciate the historical, architectural and cultural wonders of that medieval city, but there was one aspect that I became obsessed with—the Wawel Dragon.
I won’t recite the legend (click here to read it), but there is a cave and fire-breathing statue dedicated to the Wawel Dragon in Krakow. At eight, I was still young enough to believe in the dragon and treated my family’s vacation video of the “dragon’s lair” as indisputable evidence of the beast’s existence. I remember seeing markings on the cave wall and made sure to point out to my mom filming that those were scratches. In any event, my obsession with the legend helped the Krakow economy because I bought all sorts of dragon toys and statues. When a street artist drew my portrait in the town square, I demanded that he include my little dragon statue in his sketch.
Another major memory of Krakow was feeding the pigeons in the town square. Of course somebody figured out that a good way to make money in Krakow was to sell seeds to tourists to feed to the birds. I was a sucker for that. I enjoyed chasing them too.
For lunch in Krakow, I always liked to go to………McDonalds. I know. You’re judging me for flying all the way to Poland just to eat at McDonalds, but in all fairness, this was a special McDonalds because it had a dungeon. Yes sir, the building which housed the Polish McDonalds was quite old and had a deep basement. So it didn’t feel like an American McDonalds at all.
Thinking back, the memories in this post are very simple. Playing with kittens, fantasizing about dragons, chasing pigeons…these are all things I could have done somewhere in the U.S. There was nothing particularly Polish about them (except there are no American dragons). In the years to come, I would begin to appreciate Poland more for its own sake, but I realize that these early memories aren’t so much about a place as about a time—my innocent childhood.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Diary of Crazy Polish Guy!”